Tribeca Terroir

In theory, staying in New York City on a summer weekend when everyone else is away should mean you have access to plenty of restaurants, free concerts and barbecue real estate in the park while everyone else fights for a parking space in the Hamptons. In reality, the city is just as crowded as ever. Why? So many New Yorkers had the same idea.

Interior, Tribeca Terroir

So don’t head to Brooklyn on a summer weekend expecting to get a table at a popular place in Red Hook, Carroll Gardens or Williamsburg – they’ll be taken by locals. The best strategy on summer Saturdays is to target the areas where titans of industry live, where it would be horribly unfashionable to be seen in town, missing charity events galore in the Hamptons. In short, head to Tribeca. (more…)

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Locanda Verde

Chef Andrew Carmellini in Locanda Verde's Open KitchenIt seems less surprising that Robert De Niro’s restaurant Ago failed in New York than it ever landed here at all. It had all the elements in place for universal  loathing by the New York food world: unreasonably high prices, celeb-focused culture, uncaring servers, and worst of all, bad food. That may fly in LA and Miami, but in this city of 18,696 restaurants, we have better options. And P.S., no more expense accounts.

Kudos to De Niro, though, who was not afraid to make a total 180 and take this once awkward, lame-but-trying-to-be-cool spot into a restaurant that really dazzles. The makeover, by Ken Friedman and Meyer Davis, plays up the beauty of the existing dark wood and leaded glass windows but ditches the white tablecloths in favor of a more down-to-earth approach. The lamps are now (unexpectedly flattering) industrial kitchen lights, lit low and hanging closer to the tables for a feeling of intimacy in the high-ceilinged space. The tables are plain wood, and the chairs, once oversized Italian-granny-style furniture, are now blissfully unnoticeable. But the biggest turnaround is in food and service. (more…)

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Blue Crab Mondays at the Hideaway

If you can’t find a favorite hometown food in New York City, do you a) return home as often as possible to eat it, b) learn to cook, or c) open a restaurant and start serving that hometown food to all New Yorkers?

Fortunately for New York, hungry entrepreneurs have been answering “C” for centuries now. In the case of Justin Palmer of the Hideaway, first came the bar and restaurant, then came the bluefin crabs. Unable to find a place dedicated to serving hardshell crabs from Maryland or his native Virginia, he contacted his longtime crab supplier and started flying bushels of bluefins up every weekend. Now the Hideaway, a bar and restaurant started by four friends who wanted their own “clubhouse” in Tribeca, has become a mecca for transplanted crab lovers from up and down the Eastern seaboard.

If you don’t know from crabs, you may think a restaurant like City Crab is enough. It’s not. A real crab shack doesn’t have newfangled things like sushi on the menu, nor should it dabble in crabs from here, there, and everywhere. As for places that specialize in Cajun food, do what you will with crawfish, but the words “crab” and “boil” should never appear next to each other. In a real crab shack, the tables are covered in paper, the paper’s covered in steamed bluefin crabs, the crabs are covered in Old Bay, and the diners are covered in crab. It’s seafood gluttony at its finest.

Do not be afraid if you don’t know how to tackle this crustacean. The Hideaway makes it easy, providing instructions for how to eat a crab on their menu, and chances are the diners at the next table would be more than happy to help out with tips. I would say you burn nearly as many calories opening them as you do consuming them, but we were served at least 15 crabs on our order of a dozen. The generosity didn’t stop there: the crabs were caked in Old Bay and steamed just right, even though the chef was working with a more difficult pot-on-the-stove system rather than the steamers dedicated to crabs that you see further south.

We also tried the shrimp and the fries, but both of these paled next to the succulent crabs. Non-seafood fans can opt for the hefty burger, which has been a draw at the Hideaway even before the crabs came.

Though Blue Crab Mondays have brought the Hideaway into the limelight, the place still retains its clubhouse feel. Led Zeppelin plays on the stereo, major league baseball plays on the TV, and the walls are decked with slick photographs of a young Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and Carolina basketball stars. (Several of the owners attended Duke.) When all the crabs were gone and the waitress had swept up the shell debris from under the tables, the chef, staff, and owners got together and did a shot behind the bar. Now this is the kind of place anybody could call home.

The Hideaway
185 Duane Street, between Hudson and Greenwich Streets
New York, New York

How To Eat a Crab:

1) Make sure you have the necessary accoutrements: a mallet, paper towels, and beer.

2) Remove the claws and legs.

3) Pull off the pointy underside piece, the “apron.”

4) Slide your thumb in the opening between the crab body and top shell. Pull off the shell.

5) Tear off the spongy “lungs,” scoop out the “mustard” (the gunk in the cavity), and discard all.

6) Crack the crab body in half with your hands.

7) Pry away any of the overlying thin shell and dig into the body to extract the crab meat, then fan each half apart to get at the inner cavities.

8) Use the mallet on the claws only, tapping hard enough on the upper part of the claw to break it but not so hard as to pulverize the meat underneath.

9) Save the fiddly legs for the end of the crab feast and deal with them only if you are still hungry.

The Aftermath:

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Blaue Gans (Oktoberfest Has Begun)

When Blaue Gans first opened last year, chef Kurt Gutenbrunner was criticized for not even bothering to redecorate. The single, high-ceilinged loft dining room originally belonged to Le Zinc, which shut its doors after a suspicious hiatus by the owners “at the beach,” as the chalkboard sign in the window once announced. It was terrible to lose not only Le Zinc’s country-style pork pat&#233 with its grainy mustard and little cornichons, but the serene yet stimulating space it occupied. The old posters from art shows past – Clemente at the Guggenheim, Kiki Smith in Vienna – would presumably be demolished to make room for someone else’s idea of cool.

Shockingly, the only thing different about the space are the floors – nicely refurbished with a mahogany stain – and the chairs and tables. The Clemente poster is still there, and the Warhol silkscreen poster of Marilyn Monroe. The music is jazz, the pace is leisurely but efficient, and any people watching is done on the sly. Just walking into Blaue Gans is a relief.

I came here in the first place because a friend recommended Gutenbrunner’s other restaurant Walls&#233, which, like Caf&#233 Sabarsky, I have never tried, Walls&#233 because it’s fancy, Caf&#233 Sabarsky because it’s mobbed. Gutenbrunner just left Thor, a restaurant that never seemed to fit in with the rest of his portfolio. Though the food was quite good, the dark, cold space, presumably designed by the Hotel on Rivington, had all the warmth of a Gattaca set.

Try convincing a mixed group to go out for plates of bratwurst. It’s not an easy sell, because sausage and sauerkraut don’t exactly fit into the “lite” theme of the moment. If you can put aside any memories of Christmas at Rolf’s, where each entree represents approximately a week’s worth of food, here you’ll discover bratwurst that is actually light. Gently boiled then briefly seared, Blaue Gans’s bratwurst bears no resemblance to the charred stubs of unchewable links that make their way off barbecue grills every summer. This sausage is a delicately balanced dish, served alongside crunchy sauerkraut and mustard with a real kick to it.

The smoked trout appetizer also demonstrates the same kind of balance: the fish salad is served very cold, sandwiched between crepes. Had I known smoked trout, like riesling, tastes so much better at near icy temperatures, I would never have eaten it lukewarm off a bagel. Next to the trout are sweet cooked beets, the perfect complement to the smoky savoriness of the fish, and a very fresh mache salad. Don’t forget to eat the warm rye bread (this means you, carb-phobes) and order a draft of Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest beer (ditto). Each flavor goes so well with the next; it is the kind of harmony that is almost always achieved by sticking within a certain region and a certain cuisine.

Which seems to be the real gift to Gutenbrunner’s thinking. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? There is nothing lacking in the old d&#233cor, just as there is nothing lacking in the Austrian cuisine he promotes. Instead of aiming for something so new-fangled it hurts, Blaue Gans reintroduces a European idea to New York with its casual, arty atmosphere and expertly prepared food, served in restrained portions on Herend-esque porcelain. Sometimes respecting tradition is the most revolutionary thing you can do.

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